Here at Coastwood Furniture we spend all day every day working with and producing solid wood furniture. Because we have been doing this for over 25 years now, we often get asked (and told) by our customers about problems and issues that they find with solid wood furniture.

We always believe that it is better for our customers to be informed of any problems before they arise so below, we have put together a list of the common problems and customer complaints that we get that relate to solid timber furniture and what you can do to minimise these where applicable.

The effects of sunlight on solid wood furniture
Wooden dining table and bench seat with sun coming in window

Don’t we all love the sunlight especially those first few days of summer and spending time at the beach? But what happens, yep we get sunburnt and then we change colour. Well, the exact same thing can happen with natural timber and depending on the species of timber and the colour it is stained, different things can happen, some species of timber will darken with sunlight, and some will lighten. It is the same for the type of finish that is used on the timber, the effects of sunlight will slowly turn the finish darker or yellowish, which is why older furniture can often look an orange/yellow colour. With a very light stain colour like whitewash, the underlying grain colours can go through this chemical change and the effect will create an orange/pinkish hue. The other effect of direct sunlight is the heat, this can cause wooden furniture to crack and bend.

So, what can be done to stop the sunlight damaging my new furniture?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy as that but below is a list of steps you can take to slow the process down as much as possible.

1. Finishes with UV inhibitors:

Manufacturers of timber finishes are constantly trying to find a solution to fading and colour change but as yet there is no complete answer to this. What we do need to look for is whether there is some form of UV inhibitors included in the make-up of the product. That is why Coastwood Furniture uses Mirotone PC 3220 Clear Topcoat on all our furniture. This product is formulated on a very clear, low yellowing resin and contains UV absorbers to ensure maximum protection of the substrate from UV light.

2. Furniture placement:

This is a fairly obvious one but if possible, try not to place your furniture in full sunlight. If this is totally unfeasible, rotate your furniture every so often so that it fades/darkens evenly.

3. Window coverings:

Curtains, blinds, and shutters are the best protection from direct sunlight. If you keep them closed during the time of the day when the sun is the strongest, this will dramatically reduce the amount of harmful UV rays reaching your furniture.

4. Window films:

Window films can be a great option if you don’t like to feel closed in with curtains across, some options quote up to 99% of UV rays are blocked with window films.

5. Cover up:

Use tablecloths or drape something over your furniture when not in use.

In summary...
Apart from shutting our furniture up in a dark room, we are not going to completely overcome the effect of natural sunlight but if we follow some of the steps above this will slow down the changes. What most of us find is that because the process is a gradual change in colour, we don’t actually notice anything has changed until we go to buy a new piece of furniture (that is supposedly the same colour) and when we get it home it doesn’t match. Here at Coastwood Furniture we offer to stain match your furniture to try and overcome this issue. If you have a drawer or door that you can send to us, we can match (as close as solid wood allows) to your existing furniture.


Natural colour changes in solid timber furniture

All timbers will change colour over time. Generally speaking, lighter varieties of timber will become richer, while darker woods will lighten some. This is a natural process caused by exposure to UV light and oxygen. However, this aging process is not to be considered a defect... in fact, this is the beauty of solid wood so just sit back and enjoy your furniture for many years to come.


Movement in solid wood furniture (Bending and bowing)

Timber movement is caused when the humidity level in the environment is imbalanced with the moisture level in the wood itself. If the humidity level is too high, the timber will take in moisture and expand and if it is too low, the timber will dry out causing it to crack and split.

So why might this be happening to my furniture?

  • The timber used wasn’t dried correctly or was dried too much
  • The finish on the furniture wasn’t suitable
  • Your home environment is very humid or very dry
  • The furniture is exposed to extremes in heat/light or moisture (fire, sunlight, air conditioner, open doors/windows)

Slight timber movement is certainly not an unusual occurrence and there will often be an initial period when you purchase new furniture where it will settle into its new environment. Our suggestion (if it is not extreme movement) is to give it a month or so before becoming too concerned. At Coastwood we work on having all our timber dried to 12-15% moisture content to minimise movement after the furniture is assembled.

When we have complaints from customers about timber movement, we often find that products have been stored in a damp room or that they are in an environment that is kept closed up for long periods with extremes in temperature (cold in the winter and hot in the summer.)


The effects of water (liquid) and moisture on timber furniture

We have already discussed the effects of a change of moisture level in the timber itself (shrinkage or expansion), this section is based around what will happen if we introduce moisture in the form of a spillage or such. The finishing process used at Coastwood Furniture has good protection against moisture, and if spills are mopped up immediately there shouldn’t be a problem with the surface, but there are a couple of common issues we hear about:

1. A small whitish ring has developed on my bedside:

This is caused by the base of cold or hot cups placed on the wooden surface. Condensed moisture (cold) or steam (hot) pushes into the clear finish causing it to turn a white or milky grey. If you catch this soon enough it can sometimes be repaired with an iron and a non-abrasive cloth:

  • With the iron set to its lowest heat level, lay the cloth across the ring. Make sure all the iron's steam modes are off. The last thing you want is to create more stains made from moisture and heat.  
  • Next, gently run the warm iron over the fabric, making sure to move in the same direction as the grain. 
  • Lift the cloth to check periodically to see if you've made any progress, about every five passes or so. The finish on the wood should gradually release trapped moisture- the cause of the watermark.

We always recommend using coasters and placemats to protect your furniture. A simple rule to follow is “If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your furniture.”

2. The paint/finish on my unit is cracking:

This is the caused by moisture left sitting on a timber finish, or multiple spills over a period of time. Over time the moisture will soak through the finish and enter the timber, causing the wood to swell which then causes the paint/lacquer to crack.

Domestic furniture will mostly be finished in a single pack, pre-catalysed lacquer which has good moisture resistance but if you’re putting your furniture into an area where moisture could be an ongoing problem, then it’s a good idea to check in with the manufacturer to see if they can finish your furniture with a two-pot polyurethane (hardener mixed with the polyurethane.) This will provide a far superior moisture-resistant surface.

If you find yourself in the situation where your furniture has somehow had a spillage on it and the timber has swollen and cracked, the only real fix for this is to remove the top and sand it back to raw timber and resurface it. This is why Coastwood Furniture designs the majority of its furniture with easy to remove tops that can be sent to a local repairer or directly back to Coastwood if you have a problem.


Why doesn’t my new solid timber furniture all look the same colour or have the same pattern in the grain?

This is because no two pieces of solid timber will ever look identical. The colouring and grain pattern can depend on where the tree is grown, how fast or slow the tree grows, what stress it may have been under, what species of timber it is……and so on. This colour variation is the beauty of solid timber.

Just like a human with moles or freckles, solid timber has a range of minor imperfections that add to the character. This may show itself as: knots, shakes, twists, insect holes, fungi stain… these imperfections are all the result of the tree’s growing life and once the tree has been milled, dried, and turned into furniture, all these characteristics add to the overall beauty of the product.

Why does my stained furniture look patchy?

The usual cause of this is because of the differences in grain in the underlying timber. Some grains are hard and the stain will sit on the surface, other grains are softer and the stain will soak into the surface causing it to darken. Usually, the darker the timber is stained, the more even the finish will look, as it will hide the underling grain colours. Conversely, a lighter stained or natural piece of furniture will show the full range of grain colours. Grain running vertical compared to grain running horizontal can also show up as looking a different colour when stained.


Will insects attack my new furniture?

The main wood insect pest in NZ is the Borer beetle. This beetle thrives on seasoned or moist untreated timber. If your new furniture is going into an older, damp house that is already infested with borer then you do need to keep an eye out for this pest. Generally speaking, borer wont attack timber that is below 16% moisture content (which all new furniture should be) so there shouldn’t be a problem.

Sometimes in your new Ash timber furniture you may find a small 1-2mm round hole where a borer has exited the timber at some stage, this should be no cause for alarm as the Emerald Ash Borer only lives in the living tree. These small holes should be filled and polished over by the manufacturer, so they blend in with the beautiful grain of the Ash timber. 


How do I get nail polish remover off wood furniture?

Unfortunately, as you have probably already found out, this is going to ruin the finish on your beautiful new furniture. Nail polish remover contains acetone, which is basically a paint remover, so if this is spilt on your furniture it will melt the finish, leaving a sticky mess. Some perfumes and other beauty products may also contain harmful chemicals that can damage the finish on furniture, so please be careful with these.

If there has been a spill on the top of your new Coastwood Furniture product, then in most situations the top can be easily removed and either taken to a local furniture repairer or sent back to Coastwood for refinishing.


Why has my tabletop become sticky?

This is usually the result of using harsh cleaners that have damaged the surface of your new furniture.

Many household cleaners contain alcohol or ammonia-based products that over time can erode through the coating on the timber. Others are very abrasive and will cause the finish to scar and bubble.

When using a new cleaner always test it in an inconspicuous area first or just stick to the safe bet of wiping your furniture down with a damp cloth and drying thoroughly after, with a lint free cloth.


Cracks and splits (de lamenations) in furniture

This can be caused by either misuse, human error, or natural cause. If moisture has got into the timber through some form of misuse, this will cause the timber to swell and often it will crack. Most larger panels of wood are made up of a serious of smaller boards laminated together, using glue to hold them together. If for any reason the glue has not been spread over the whole surface or is missing, this will cause the panel to start coming apart on the joins and is what we call de lamination, and would class this as human error. Because timber is a natural product it can move over time, especially if the surrounding atmosphere changes in temperature and humidity. Both can cause the timber to crack or split which unfortunately is a natural occurrence and is not something we can do a lot about.


Why does my furniture have wood filler in it?

Every piece of timber is unique and has its own set of imperfections and character, often this will result in small holes or areas which need filling with a suitable wood filler so that the surface is smooth when finished. Often when assembling furniture, there will be areas that need to be tacked together leaving small tack holes on the surface, these should be kept to a minimum where possible and once again should be filled with a wood filler. Wood filler comes in a range of different colours which should be a close match to the timber it is used in, but because filler has a different composition to wood, it may not always match perfectly. Small imperfections or tack holes filled with wood filler in your new furniture should be no cause for alarm as they will have no effect on the strength or longevity of the piece.


If you have an issue related to solid wood furniture that is not covered here, please don’t hesitate to contact us.